Review and photography by Zoe Shannon

It’s a calm Tuesday night and there’s a faint smell of chlorine as I stand and wait for the support act to appear. I haven’t done my homework on the main act Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit, other than seeing two friends who I know are really into their folk and alternative music like them on Facebook. I haven’t worked out the audience yet; a mixture of ages and dress sense doesn’t really give me any clues about the evening ahead.

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit10

I’m suddenly pulled in by a magnificent sparkling crown like adornment upon the stage. As I continue to stare, I find it to be worn by the support act’s leading lady as she is tuning what appears to be an electric ukulele. Already I’m in and wondering what will happen once she opens her mouth.

Holly Holden Y Su Banda4

Holly Holden Y Su Banda2

I’m more than pleasantly surprised when she does. After the first couple of songs, I realise I haven’t really understood a word she’s singing. French? Spanish? It could be Martian for all I care, it’s beautiful and happy and I’m enjoying it immensely. (For the record, further research tells me it was Spanish.) The upbeat, jazzy ensemble accompany her sultry tones and the latin notes I pick out conjure up old smoky clubs with a swinging dancefloor like you’d see in the movies.

Holly Holden Y Su Banda3

Holly Holden Y Su Banda1

After the first four songs, we’re introduced to Holly Holden Y Su Banda (or ‘Holly Holden and her band’ as she explained later on). Holly is a singer songwriter from London, with band members Frank Clarke and David Beauchamp.

Their last song, ‘Benji Muji Mau’, is the next single from the E.P. ‘Tropical Soul’, which I found at the merch desk later on. This song gives me summery Beach Boys vibes and has my head bobbing along. I can see the rest of the audience are with me, swaying to the beat and warmly applauding their set.

Throughout Holly’s set the room had filled almost to the brim and now the murmur was a full buzz with eyes directed firmly to the stage awaiting Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit.

In this interval I met Anika, an Austrian lady who’d come up from London to see the show. Having no real clue about the band before now I asked her what the music was like and she proceeded to tell me of his South African upbringing, how he’d sang in church, learnt the trumpet and violin among other instruments and that his music had an influence of 50’s, blues and folk. “A new soul but felt familiar.” I was intrigued.

Bathed in blue light, the band quietly appear and spread out among the variety of instruments laid about the small stage to a warm welcome from the audience. I noticed Holly and Dave come back too. With a simple ‘hey’ from the leading man, the band launch into their set.

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit9

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit7

The first song ‘Raising The Dead’ is straight from his new album ‘Sillion’, but he revisits his past immediately with ‘Lost and Found’ from his second album, and it’s obvious that I might be one of the few seeing them for the first time as I can already hear the audience singing along behind me.

At ‘The Night My Piano Upped and Died’ the lights go red and I can sense a change of pace. The song is heavier, louder and it’s here that I begin to hear the more bluesy elements. For the most part Johnny stays firmly behind his mic, only moving to engage with the band behind him; but he seems to have gained his confidence by song five and is starting to engage with the audience and we’re introduced to his trumpet in ‘Barleycorn’.

From here the songs only get heavier and more upbeat, much to the delight of the whooping audience.

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit8

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit3

Every song change seemingly involves a full band swap of instruments; Holly from bass to keyboard, Johnny’s sister Lillie has a flute and an instrument that I’ve never even seen before, a wooden box with accordion like movements. At the back, a cello appears. And with each song I can hear the different influences in this music, I get an 80’s synth notion in one, while another reminds me of a political march. By incorporating his mixture of styles and instruments, Johnny invites an eclectic audience and looking around, that’s who I see whooping and swaying.

About half way through the set comes a few technical difficulties, which seem to leave Johnny a little flustered; it’s clear that his way of connecting with his audience is through his songs, but he does raise a laugh with his cheese jokes and even gets a few suggestions back. “What cheese never tell’s the truth? Lychees” is probably my new favourite joke.

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit5

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit6

After this minor gap, the songs don’t follow a pattern as before, instead each song creates it’s own atmosphere and mood. The biggest cheer comes for ‘The Water’, clearly an old favourite with fans, summed up with “That was really good, thanks” from an eager audience member. Johnny seems more comfortable here, telling the crowd that he is enjoying seeing them enjoy the show.

The set continues and Frank of Holly’s band even comes back on for a “never been done before” version of ‘Landlord’. After a couple more quiet songs, the set ends with a joyous rendition of ‘The Box’, and a hugely appreciative audience, who continue their whistles and whoops until Johnny returns solo to the stage for an encore. With purple lights and an almost silent room, you can really hear the power and range in his voice in a song he jokes is about Tina Turner, ‘Heart Sunk Hank’. He next dedicates ‘The Detectorists’ to Paul’s mum who they’d unfortunately lost the week before to an even more silent room.

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit2

Finally, after two more infectiously happy songs. Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit end with a humble “Thanks again, see you soon.”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure this was going to be my cup of tea but I reckon this music carries mass appeal because there’s so much to hear; whether it’s the folksy storytelling or the jolly toe tapping beat. This night was first sold to me on “He’s very beautiful with an incredible voice!!” but I found there was whole lot more to him and the band, and frankly, I just had a lovely evening of music. As I wandered back to my car, I heard a fan behind me sum it all up with “That was perfect.”

Me, I had one criticism. Not enough trumpet.

Raising The Dead
Lost & Found
The Wrote & The Writ
The Night My Piano Upped and Died
In The Deepest
Wandering Aengus
Cold Bread
Hard Road
The Water
Country Mile
Brown Trout Blues
Jefferson’s Torch
Tickle me Pink
The Box

Heart Sunk Hank
Eyeless in Holloway


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